The Just Transition Movement Reflection Report

The Just Transition Movement and its Relevance in the Appalachian Coalfields

Coal mining is the main activity in the Appalachian economy since the nineteenth century. The business was popularized by an increase in demand for the product during the civil war. The mining changed the region, which had been isolated, and made it an agrarian mountainous economy and a destination for domestic and European migrants, who moved to work in mines. By the twentieth century, the area provided over 80% nation’s coal supply; hence, named the coal region. This paper reflects on the meaning and importance of The Just Transition movement. Information is gathered empirically by interviewing one scholar to understand the way the concept is applied in Appalachia, Kentucky. The report also looks into some organizations and government actors involved in the post-coal transition and the requirements for a sustainable future after the transition.

A decline in the coal market has necessitated an economic transition globally. The change has precipitated societies to emphasize a “just transition” strategy to reconcile the needs of employees within the environmental reform imperatives. The Just Transition concept is a comprehensive effort applied to help coal workers and communities as they move from the fossil economy to a more equitable and sustainable one. Some of this effort includes attempts to reinforce clean energy by focusing on protecting workers and creating jobs (Abraham 218). Just transition movement encompasses several strategies, such as forestry, small businesses, local foods, and many other aspects.

The increasing need for reduced investment in fossil fuels and concentration on the fossil-free environment, sustainable, and low-carbon fuels has significant implications for the transition in the Appalachian area, from its high dependency on coal and extractive industries. The collapse of the Appalachian economy, especially the gas boom forced the region to undergo structural readjustment with increased losses of jobs and economic pressures in the communities that rely on coal. Therefore, most regional and local stakeholders are aggressively working to ensure this transition from coal dependency in Appalachia is a “just transition” that creates local wealth, stimulates job creation, and creates resilient communities in various economic actions that sustain natural structures instead of undermining them.

Therefore, several efforts among practitioners who use the rural value chain development model known as wealth works, encourage alternative approaches to economic development in sectors, such as “residential energy efficiency, green affordable housing, local agricultural and food systems, sustainable wood products and forestry, tourism, creative industries, renewable energy, and light manufacturing among others” (Humphreys et al. 3). Hence, these green initiatives are meant to be achievable and sustainable.

Why a Just Transition from Coal and Fossil Fuels is Desirable

Climate change is highlighted as the most significant challenge globally. Equally, it is a call to guarantee energy access for sustainability and economic development. The Just Transition approach calls for government organizations, societies, and employers, as well as employees, towards a social conversation on investments and policies to enhance transformation. The main focus is creating jobs and ensuring everyone is included in reducing emissions, advancing economic and social justice, and protecting the climate (Philip and Daniella 1). These processes should be combined to bring positive outcomes.

Subsidies from fossil fuels increase emissions of Green House Gases (GHG), which causes climate change. Hence, the withdrawal of subsidies and the transition from fossil fuels and consumption of fossil fuels would reduce carbon emissions by 6.4% by 2050. Furthermore, the removal of fossil fuel subsidies globally can save 37Gt of carbon dioxide emissions over time (Peter and Daniella 1). Thus, the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies through the “just transition” movement will decrease emissions leading to sustainable development.

Fossil fuel production has declined over time. The move has been necessitated by the need to achieve climate objectives, through intensive de-carbonization of global energy structures. Consequently, the limitation of the usage of fossil fuel leads to several societal benefits, such as climate risk decline, economic growth sustainability, a better quality of air, and improved human health. However, those involved in the production of fossil fuels may not benefit from the low-carbon economy transition. Moreover, those who depend on fossil fuel for their livelihood and those who use fossil-fuelled energy might bear a disproportionate burden from the transition (Piggot et al. 1). Hence a “just transition” strategy is desirable to reduce disruptions of communities and workers who rely on these unsustainable industries.

International bodies have been aggressive supporters of the “just transition” movement. The prominence of the transition was underscored in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement. The main concern is that the transition to low carbon tackles both economic and social inequalities. Hence, UNFCCC avers that the transition should add to the objectives of honest work for poverty eradication and social inclusion. More so, the European Commission (EC) focuses on boosting the transition to clean energy by encouraging social fairness. Besides, the Scottish government seeks a shift that promotes inclusive growth, equality, and cohesion. The U.S. government had previously pointed out that the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels needed to end to achieve climate goals. The government in the previous administration introduced Clean Power Plan (CPP) in 2015 to reduce emissions and set a long-term strategy known as Mid-Century Strategy (MCS) to de-carbonize the economy (Piggot et al. 4). Within the policies, there was an emphasis on the need to offer transition support in sections of the population. CPP recognized that there could be losses and gains in employment for different categories of people while MCS pointed out that more help was needed for households in low-income groups and those who were dependent on fossil fuels (Piggot et al. 4). Thus, it is clear that “just transition” concept has been adapted and appreciated globally.

Key Actors Involved in Seeking Post-Coal Transition in Appalachian Kentucky

The government and various organizations are pushing for a “just transition” strategy to address the consequences of shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy. The US government adopted policies meant to reduce emissions of Greenhouse gas to help communities move to lower-carbon sources of energy. The action caused significant employment and economic losses in Appalachia since fewer miners were required to produce coal for consumption; hence, many workers lost their jobs in coal-reliant positions. In response, President Obama proposed a plan worth $ 3 billion, known as Power++ (“How should the U.S. Government Help Coal Communities”). Thus, the move was to help coal-dependent regions towards a “just transition.”

Other local organizations have played a significant role in the post-coal transition in Appalachia. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) is an organization that provides technical assistance and loans to non-profits and small businesses. Similarly, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (APCEN) operates business incubators to offer, office, counseling, resources, manufacturing space, and procurement to new enterprises. Other organizations that provide post-coal transition support in Kentucky include the Southern Economy Project which provides straining towards creating enterprises owned by cooperatives. The Central Appalachian Network provides grants to enterprises that produce local foods. Appalachian Voices and Coal River Mountain Watch protect mountains and are against mountaintop removal, which is a coal-mining action that destroys mountains for a one-off profit  (Brooke). Hence, such activities affect the local economy by denying other benefits, such as wind production and tourism.

Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) is a project that encourages economic development and operates to develop a thriving Appalachia by improving economies of local food access and distribution. ASD supports “just transition” campaigns in the creation of food enterprise corridors and the growth of industries for local food by focusing on 40 Counties, which Appalachian Regional Commission categorizes as distressed. ASD partners with Appalachian Center for Economic Networks to increase economic opportunities among workers who have been displaced and entrepreneurs classified as low wealth, enhance support and education services, and develop a model for food distribution in Appalachia (Binko and Mikush 10). Hence, through these activities, ASD advocate for a just post-coal transition.

Appalachian Voices is another organization that pursues strategies to build a clean energy sector and improve sustainable economic growth among communities that have been affected by the 60% drop in coal mining since the year 2012. The organization promotes solar energy by maximizing benefits in the local economy, convening stakeholders to develop a renewable energy development roadmap (Binko and Mikush 10). The group assesses the areas’ needs and offers economic and energy solutions.

Black Mesa Water Coalition is another organization that is concerned with the dependence of the community on power plants and coal mines and the contribution of coal to the community’s economic well-being. The group facilitates community conversations to develop a green economy, highlights opportunities for sustainable economic development, and supports local entrepreneurship. Through the just transition fund, the group organizes actions together with community engagement and outreach (Binko and Mikush 10). The process helps to develop a resilient and diversified economy

Biography and History of Individuals Interviewed for Just Transition Oral History Archive

This study interviewed Madam Ann Kingsolver, who is an anthropologist professor at the University of Kentucky. I chose Ann due to her diverse experience in matters of natural resources, environment, and social justice. Besides, Ann was born in Kentucky and has witnessed various transitions and events in the area, including the inclusion of Nicholas County in the Appalachian region Commission.

Ann grew up in Nicholas County in Kentucky, which has recently been included as part of the official Appalachia Commission, although the commission was founded 50 years ago. According to Ann, she was raised in the woods since her parents emphasized the natural world. Thus, Ann spent most of her time remote camping and hiking. Ann’s family farmed organically in the 1950s when the concept was still very new globally. Through organic farming, she learned how to grow and preserve food, such as making maple syrup at home. Her parents were environmental activists; hence, they took their children with them for protests. From such events, Ann learned about environmental and social activism at an early age. In the 1950s, Ann’s Mother started a recycling business in the County. One noticeable action was when she convinced someone to bring a semi-trailer into the town. People were encouraged to carry waste papers and put them in their vehicles for recycling. According to Ann, this business was beneficial since the County would not afford to handle recycling due to a limited budget. Ann stated that the whole budget set aside for the County was equal to the budget allocated to one department in the university, so there was a major infrastructural challenge in the County.

Ann’s father was a family practitioner and the overall doctor in the County. Ann indicated that she used to accompany him for sessions and worked in his office when she was ten years old. From this interaction, she learned the art of listening to people’s needs, prioritization of emergencies, and how the world is connected to society and social inequality. It is notable that the family of Ann did not own a television, so the parents read books to them around the fire. From this experience, she learned how to listen to the stories of elders, the way roles are done differently at different times, and how people collectively address challenges. Therefore, Ann admitted that her parents and grandparents were the most significant influence in her life, mainly when they lived in Zaire when her father was volunteering as a medical practitioner. Her experience in Zaire opened her up to her current passion for anthropology.

From the young age of 11 years old, Ann knew that she wanted to be an anthropology professor even though she did not understand what anthropology was all about. She explained that all she wanted was to learn about respecting diversity, the way people make difference in the world, and finding ways to communicate through these differences. Ann pursued anthropology for her undergraduate degree in Memphis, Tennessee. For her thesis, she worked in a Spanish-speaking clinic at the Mexican border, where she learned about stereotypes and the need for healthcare among women. After graduating, Ann moved to Arizona to work and later worked in Massachusetts as a bio service director. Then, she went to graduate school, where she attained a foundation in natural science and political economy. Her interest in her master’s and Ph.D. was intersections of environmental justice and economic justice.

Role Played by Ann in “Just Transition”

Ann worked as a bioregional director in Massachusetts, where her main interest was in energy and addressing inequalities. She was involved in creating policies around resources and the environment and how to save them without creating social and economic violence. Ann brought young people within Kentucky together to discuss the meaning of “just economic transition” and to talk about the significance of an economy that is fair to workers, one that protects wealth within Appalachian communities and keeps the resources of the region.

Ann has been instrumental in reminding young people about the power that lies within them, to develop a future that they need in their communities. Therefore, one of the significant roles played by Ann is to ensure that young people participate in talks and conversations about the economic transition of Appalachia. She ensured that their discussions were documented to ensure that decision-makers incorporated their needs and ideas. Ann stated that “I believe that the best analysis of what is happening in Appalachia comes from young people…young people’s contribution is important to shape the future.”

Ann has played a role in highlighting burgeoning renewable energy in Appalachia and industries that are energy-efficient, including their role in creating robust local economies. Furthermore, through her research on Tobacco, Toyota, and Subaltern development discourses, Ann questions how decisions are made about the future of residents in Kentucky. She challenges modernization strategies, which have been regarded as an advancement to “developed” from “underdeveloped.” Ann brings out the aspect of women being affected by transitions that are happening in the region. She argues that females are most affected because the energy supply is not gender-neutral. She stated that “It is important to know that women are most affected by de-carbonization as well as carbonization of energy” Hence, the need to de-carbonize energy production and enhance universal access to energy by 2030. She concluded that if manufacturing and agriculture are regarded as multinational sectors, then it is crucial to ensure that workers are not manipulated or affected by those industries.

Ann introduced the concept of social justice as a segment of the “just transition” strategy. She explained that “just transition” recognizes that sustainable solutions must prioritize the requirements of communities that are on the frontline and affected most by a transition to a clean energy economy. Ann insists that it is essential to ensure that the transition is equal, accessible, and socially just to all. However, she clearly states that there is no universal method to follow in the transition, so, it is essential to ensure the processes of decision-making for energy and climate solutions are public and that they represent the subjects that are impacted. She highlighted, “I am in the group that believes in participative research, to make sense of what people think.” Hence, this can be done through participative research.

Vision for Post-Coal Transition Appalachia and Ingredients for a More Sustainable Future

Ann has been running a project in Appalachia known as the global mountain region that offers people in the area a chance to discuss their global experiences. The program is meant to help in planning for the future through organizational strategies. Ann envisions a transition in the economy, where entrepreneurs are the main drivers. She explained that “business people will create services and goods to push diverse economies locally and emphasize sectors that bring benefits to the community and not just generate economic activities.” Hence, Ann supports the protection of communities that are affected by the move to renewable energy from fossil fuels, and she feels it is both ethically and economically imperative.

A sustainable future can be attained by following a number of steps. Firstly, stakeholders and policymakers need to identify communities that are impacted by transitions and those where changes are required to achieve social justice. The leaders need to create conversations with these communities to involve stakeholders in building long-term strategies. Secondly, communities that are affected should be involved in discussions on transition early enough to create the conversation structure and include social justice issues. Hence, inclusive justice is critical to ensure that communities embrace and own the changes. Thirdly, it is crucial to introduce social protection, such as training skills and early retirement. These processes need to be planned to enhance social equity among the impacted communities. Fourthly, funds need to be created for “just transition.” These funds are to be used in supporting the development of the communities that are affected. It is necessary to transfer the funds to transition funds from industry subsidies (Conway). Most importantly, it is imperative to consider long-term strategies in all the above steps to enhance sustainability.

The Person’s Values and Priorities

One of its priorities of Ann is to address inequalities in the communities. Ann has an interest in policies that deal with the collaboration of people and how they work together toward their resources and the environment. She explained that “people who are marginalized should come together and discuss their global experiences to protect their resources.” Besides, she has a great interest in the political economy, prioritizing environmental justice and economic justice and their intersections. Further, Ann holds participatory research highly on her priorities, where she is involved in talking and listening to people about making sense of economic and environmental policies. She highlighted that “I enjoyed talking and listening to people about how they made sense of economic and environmental policies, especially during the period of transition.” Another priority by Ann is driving the agenda of the transition of tobacco from subsistence to cash crops. Ann has been active in changing the stereotype of Appalachia, where it has been rationalized and viewed as if it is responsible for its poverty, and hence she has been instrumental in shaping policies that raise such stereotypes. She indicates that “I grew an interest in policy and how people must come together to plan around their environment and resources.”

Ann believes in change through young people. She conducted a study through youth by giving them an essay to write about what they wanted to see in Appalachia in the future. She researched the topic because she felt that even though Appalachia is one of the oldest areas in the U.S., it is still highly marginalized, hence not connected to the global economy, and so Appalachia is facing structural violence.

Current State and Future of the “Just Transition” Movement in Appalachia Kentucky

Appalachia consists of mountainous rural communities that became industrialized by mining coal. The increase in coal industry mechanization, changes in global markets, and policies of the state are critical influencers of the coal extraction market. However, the coal trade has negatively impacted local citizens’ health, the environment, and workplace conditions even though reliable identification of the local communities with coal mining remains. Such historical and cultural identification with this coal industry in a mono-economy leads to an extreme polarization of the communities locally. In the past two decades, an increase in coal industry mechanization has led to decreased employment as well as other damages, partly due to mountaintop movement, removal mining, and valley fills (a process where mountains are detonated and pushed into the valleys to expose coal seams (Unroe 1). Consequently, coal production increased but has since declined by a considerable margin.

Appalachian Kentucky is making the right progress in reducing climate pollution. However, the move has affected the local economy, which has traditionally relied on fossil fuel industries. Therefore, these communities require new industries to replace lost coal-based jobs. There has been an outcry in the United States and globally to shift from dependence on fossil fuels to a future of clean energy. Appalachian Kentucky has also witnessed the retirement of power plants fueled by coal and the adoption of renewable energy, which is growing to cover the overall energy demand. As consumers demand clean energy, companies are becoming climate-conscious. Plans are underway to shut ten more plants run by coal by the end of 2019 and more by 2030. The move indicates lost revenue in the form of taxes as well as job insecurity. In addition, funding aimed at supporting infrastructure will reduce significantly, affecting local services. The move has also led to the immigration of young people as they search for greener pastures away from the struggling economy (Unroe 1). Thus, leading to population decline as well as other adverse economic effects.

According to the concept of “from belief to behavior,” our beliefs are essential to how we act within the world. However, beliefs do not always lead to corresponding behavior since the force of habit, competing preferences, or inability might be the guiding forces behind actions that are contrary to intentions or beliefs. Based on this aspect, campaigns need to apply strategies meant to change the mindsets of people and influence behavior (Madsen 1). The “Just transition” movement is one such campaign.

The changes driven by “just transition” actions have come with better and more innovations in Kentucky. For instance, one of the dominant coal companies in Kentucky, known as Ross Harris Group, is developing a solar farm that is 700 acres in size on the mountaintops where coal was mined previously. The move will offer new jobs to residents who are out of work due to the fall of the coal industry. On the other hand,  Kentucky Power, which provides services in the area, is developing a 20-megawatt solar project to meet the increasing energy demand for consumers as they plan for more than 8000 megawatts of renewable creation by 2030 (Vaden). These are among the growth and development strategies for renewable energies.


Overall, to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and climatic changes, a greener energy initiative should be established. On the other hand, economically, the prices of cleaner energy keep dropping, hence attracting fossil fuel engagement. On social aspects, employees should be rewarded accordingly, especially in the energy sector, to ensure that their contribution and that of their families have a positive impact on both the community and the economy. Due to these three dynamics, efforts are being initiated to ensure that energy transition is fair to everyone to meet the goals of the “Just Transition” movement.


Work Cited

Abraham, Judson “Just Transitions for the Miners: Labor Environmentalism in the Ruhr and Appalachian Coalfields.” New Political Science, vol. 39, no. 2, 2017, pp 218-240.

Binko, Heidi and Mikush, Sandra. “Just transition Fund: Philanthropic Communities to Help Coal Communities in Transition. Just Transition Fund. 2016. Accessed on 27 November 2019.

Brooke, Jarvis. “Lessons for Appalachia’s Post Coal Economy. United Nations University. 2012. Accessed on 27 November 2019.

Conway Mark. “Developing and Implementing Just Transition Policies. World Resources Institute. Accessed 27 November 2019.

“How should the U.S Government Help Coal Communities” Conversation. Accessed 28 November 2019.    

Humphreys, Joshua, et al. “Fossil Free Investment for a Just Appalachian Transition.” Obstacles and Opportunities. Croatian Institute. 2014. Accessed on 27 November 2019.

Madsen, Jens. “From Belief to Behavior. The Psychology of Micro-Targeted Election Campaign.” 2019. Accessed on 28 November 2019.

Peter, Gass and Daniella, Echeverria. “Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and the Just Transition: Integrating Approaches for Complementary Outcomes.”  GSI report. 2017. Accessed 28 November 2019.

Piggot, Georgia, et al. “Realizing a Just and Equitable Transition Away From Fossil Fuels. Stockholm Environment Institute. 2019. Accessed on 26 November 2019.

Unroe Coleen.“Social Movement Learning for a Just Transition in Appalachia.” Kansas State University Libraries. Adult Education Research Conference. 2019. Accessed on 27 November 2019.

Vaden, Amy. “A Just Transition for Coal Country”. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.2019. Accessed on 27 November 2019.

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